After polling parliamentary blocs on their choice for prime minister Thursday, President Michel Aoun tasked Saad Hariri with forming a government. Hariri received a relatively weak mandate of 65 out of 120 MPs. After Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet resigned amid widespread outrage over the government's failure to prevent the August 4 Beirut explosion, Mustapha Adib, Lebanon's ambassador to Germany, won the backing of 90 MPs promising to form a cabinet of experts. But, he relinquished his position as Prime Minister-designate when the Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal insisted on retaining control of the finance ministry. Aoun last week postponed polling the parliamentary blocs when it appeared Hariri would not win majority support. Since then, however, Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party, which has six seats in parliament, dropped its opposition to Hariri's nomination. Amal voted for Hariri while Hezbollah, despite backing Hariri's designation, abstained to avoid breaking ranks with the Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon's largest Christian party and a close Hezbollah ally. The Free Patriotic Movement, founded by Aoun and led by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, refused to back Hariri on the grounds that he will not form a government led by "specialists" as required by French President Emmanuel Macron's reform plan, unveiled on September 1, for unlocking international aid. This rationale for opposing Hariri rings hollow as he signaled earlier this month that commitment to the French rescue plan would be a prerequisite for parties joining his government. Hariri served two previous terms as prime minister, 2009-2011 and 2016-January 2020. He resigned in October 2019 – but stayed on as a caretaker prime minister until January 2020 – after mass demonstrations against a proposed austerity program intended to shore up a depreciating Lebanese pound. Since then, the financial crisis has only deepened as the Lebanese pound lost 80 percent of its value vis-à-vis the dollar despite the central bank effectively appropriating citizens' dollar deposits to increase its foreign currency reserves, forcing banks relieved of the deposits to halt temporarily all dollar withdrawals. Needing its diminishing foreign currency reserves to cover critical imports, Lebanon failed last March to repay a $1.2 billion Eurobond, marking the country's first sovereign default. Thanks to the added economic dislocation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and Beirut explosion, the IMF projected last Tuesday Lebanon's GDP will contract 25 percent in 2020.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ 6), along with 30 cosponsors, will introduce a resolution Friday calling for the US to recognize the Armenian administration in Nagorno-Karabakh (Republic of Artsakh) as a sovereign country because "the only peaceful, long-lasting resolution to this conflict will come from international recognition of the Republic of Artsakh." The resolution also "condemns the September 27, 2020 military offensive launched by Azerbaijani and Turkish-backed forces on Artsakh" and "urges the President of the United States to withhold any further assistance to Azerbaijan until they end military operations against Artsakh." Apart from Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis (R-FL 12), all of the sponsors are Democrats. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced Wednesday that the Library of Congress' catalog will now use the term Armenian "genocide," instead of "massacres," to refer to the killing of Armenians in Turkey during World War I. Sen. Schumer tweeted Thursday: "Turkey committed human rights abuses in Syria, against the Kurds, and is enflaming the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I forced a vote to take action on Turkey's human rights abuses, but Republicans refused so they can keep moving forward to rip health care from millions."
Despite an Israel HaYom report that a delegation of senior officials from the Mossad and Prime Minister's office reached a final agreement on mutual recognition with Sudanese leaders in Khartoum Wednesday, Sudanese government sources informed Reuters Thursday Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok will proceed with normalizing relations with Israel once a yet-to-be-formed transitional parliament approves the step. In late August, Hamdok ruled out normalizing ties with Israel during the 39-month transition to democracy mapped out in a July, 5, 2019 agreement between the civilian-led Forces of Freedom and Change alliance and the Transitional Military Council junta that ousted Omar al-Bashir. Despite this, State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus stated Thursday, "Secretary Pompeo applauded Prime Minister Hamdok's efforts-to-date to improve Sudan's relationship with Israel and expressed hope that they would continue."
Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Commission (HRC) Thursday denied Human Rights Watch's allegation Tuesday that "Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against eight Saudi men charged with protest-related crimes, some of which they allegedly committed as children... between ages 14 and 17." HRC President Awwad al-Awwad announced on April 26, 2020 that a royal decree had banned the execution of minors and mandated 10 years in a juvenile detention center as the stiffest sentence they could face henceforth. The HRC's Thursday statement mentioned the April decree and said it was "confident that Saudi prosecutors will fully comply with the Saudi law."
The state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency reported the assassination of Adnan al-Afiyuni, the Sunni Muslim mufti for Damascus province, when a bomb planted in his car exploded Thursday while he was in the town of Qudsaya. No group claimed responsibility. Syria's civil war has rarely reached the capital since 2018, thanks in part to deals al-Afiyuni helped mediate whereby rebels in besieged Damascus suburbs were evacuated to Idlib.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum